Mass Incarceration and Sexual Violence


There are about 2.3 million people incarcerated in the U.S. Black cisgender women are over 7 times more likely than white cisgender women to face incarceration.

People are incriminated for illegal substance use, some of which might include self-medicating for anxiety, depression, or PTSD when affordable health care is unattainable. Over half of incarcerated individuals have a diagnosed mental illness. Others have acted in self-defense, injuring someone who was violently abusing them.

Why do we punish people in the U.S. for attempting to protect themselves from violence? When we have built a faulty health system under which necessary, life-saving services are not equally accessible, why do we punish those who do not have the care that they need to survive?

Incarcerated people have been shackled during labor and childbirth, sexually assaulted by prison guards, physically abused, and isolated from contact with others. For cisgender women, this hideous abuse is rampant. For transgender women in prison, the challenges are even more complex. Transgender women in prison may be sexually assaulted, denied health care, and denied correct clothing and access to bathroom facilities.

In 1995, approximately 5,000 incarcerated women were sexually assaulted while in prison. Incarcerated people have filed complaints against prison guards, police, and probation officers in 41% of state and federal prisons and jails for sexual violence. Due to internal prison-grievance systems, violations are often difficult to address, and there is fear of retaliation.

Our taxes support a prison system in which many people are incarcerated unjustly, horribly abused by staff, and then unable to protect themselves against continued abuse.

For people with disabilities, incarceration comes with additional human rights violations. At Angola Prison in Louisiana, regulations required that individuals place their hands through the prison bars to be handcuffed before staff entered. Incarcerated individuals with seizure disorders who were unable to place their hands through the bars were treated most poorly— prison guards used mace or fire extinguishers on those who were convulsing.

Sexual violence, physical abuse, and psychological abuse within the U.S. prison system is not often discussed in the media. People with disabilities, cisgender women, and transgender women face heightened risks of exposure to violence and human rights violations. We can advocate for change by supporting organizations that serve incarcerated individuals and educate the public.

The Marshall Project is a nonprofit journalism organization that covers the U.S. criminal justice system.

Voice of Witness is an organization that collects oral histories for human rights-based education. Narratives from Women’s Prisons: Inside This Place, Not of It is an informative and compelling Voice of Witness publication that features several personal stories.

Other movements and organizations that serve incarcerated individuals are listed here.

This post was submitted to End Rape On Campus anonymously.

To write a guest post on our blog, please contact